The Kentucky Wildcats had a very realistic shot of not making the NCAA Tournament this year.
Now, they are on fire and looking to make a deep run.
Many fans, though, have pointed to the fact that this team is too young as a reason for their failures this season. With Wenyen Gabriel and Hamidou Diallo as the veteran leaders, fans have said that the number of five-star recruits that come in and out of Rupp Arena has reached its boiling point.
Recruit more four-stars.
It’s not that fans want Cal stop recruiting these superstar recruits. No fan would give up their memories of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, among others for an entire cast of lesser known guys. The case being made is that, with more four-star recruits, guys will stay longer and leave less holes on the roster that must be filled by babyface freshmen.
Unfortunately, the history of four-star recruits under Cal does not support this idea.
In this article, we’ll go year-by-year detailing each four-star recruit and how their career at Kentucky played out.
(Note: ESPN, Rivals, 247 Sports, and Scout recruiting rankings were used for determining whether a player is a four-star or not. If a player had more than one type of star ranking, an average of all of the rankings was used to determine if he was considered a four-star or not).
Jon Hood (Partial): Five-star by ESPN, four-star by Rivals and Scout (4.33 average).
Hood was a local star, hailing from North Hopkins in Madisonville as the state’s reining Mr. Basketball. He was seen as the type of player that Kentucky fans want now: a very talented, local player that doesn’t have to play right away, but can play later on in his career. He was obviously highly thought of, and Kentucky fans were very excited for his arrival.
He never lived up to his potential, though an ACL injury derailed the middle portion of his UK tenure.
In fact, Hood played more in his first two years than his final two at Kentucky (232 minutes to 193 minutes). In the end, Hood only scored 95 points in his entire four-year tenure at Kentucky.
Darnell Dodson (Partial): Four-star by Rivals, three-star by Scout (4 average).
Darnell Dodson ranks in the top 10 of most three-point field goals made by a first-year player in Kentucky history. That’s about where his accomplishments end as a Kentucky Wildcat. Dodson was this class’ three-point marksman, the guy that could set and spray threes from anywhere on the perimeter. He only lasted a year, as Dodson would transfer from the school and only play collegiate basketball for one more season before being dismissed from Southern Mississippi.
Eric Bledsoe (Partial): Five-star by Rivals and ESPN, four-star by Scout. Considered a five-star for this exercise).
Stacey Poole: Four-star by ESPN, Scout and Rivals (4.0 average).
Poole was one of the first major busts as a four-star recruit. 45 minutes, 1-for-9 on field goals, and four points. That’s it. He ended up transferring to Georgia Tech for and playing two seasons for the Yellow Jackets. He never started a game.
Eloy Vargas (Partial): Five-star by ESPN, four-star by Scout and Rivals (4.33 average).
Eloy was never quite the player Kentucky needed to be, despite being a well-respected recruit. A transfer from Miami-Dade Junior College, Vargas had a fairly forgettable tenure. He averaged a fraction under seven minutes per-game, scoring a total of 85 points on 79 attempts from the floor during his two-year tenure at Kentucky.
Doron Lamb (Partial): Five-star by Rivals and ESPN, four-star by Scout (4.67 average, considered a five-star for this exercise).
No four-stars were recruited this season.
Willie Cauley-Stein (Partial): Five-star by ESPN, four-star by Scout and Rivals (4.33 average).
Willie Cauley-Stein is a perfect example of the type of player Kentucky fans want as a four-star recruit. Willie started from humble beginnings as Nerlens Noel’s backup on Kentucky’s only team to not make the NCAA Tournament under Cal. Not only was he a member of two of Kentucky’s greatest teams of all-time, he was a consensus All-American his final year at Kentucky. He made an impact all three years he was a Wildcat, and played the role he was asked to play. He is one of the most fondly remembered ‘Cats under Coach Calipari.
Marcus Lee Five-star by Scout and Rivals, four-star by ESPN. Considered a five-star for this exercise).
Devin Booker Five-star by ESPN and 247, four-star by Scout and Rivals. Considered a five-star for this exercise).
Isaac Humphries: Four-star by all four services (4.0 average).
Isaac Humphries had one of the most memorable games of any non-superstar in the Calipari Era. His game against North Carolina in last year’s Elite Eight will always be one to remember. That was also his final game as a Wildcat. Humphries averaged only 8.6 minutes per-game in his two years at Kentucky, scoring a total of 148 points. He would’ve been a good example of a solid four-year player, but he had dreams of professional basketball and left after only two seasons.
Charles Matthews: Four-star by all services (4.0 average).
A player that was originally billed as a five-star shooting guard ended up playing a little over five months in a UK uniform. Matthews only scored 61 points in 369 minutes for Kentucky before transferring to Michigan after the season ended. He’s currently an impact player in Ann Arbor, having started every game so far this season and averaging 30 minutes per-game.
Mychal Mulder (Partial): Four-star by Rivals (4.0 average).
Mulder was already a junior by the time he arrived at UK, but he was still regarded as a big-time get as a four-star JUCO signee. He was a three-point specialist, one that would average a little over one three-pointer made (35 made in 32 games) his final year at Kentucky.
Sacha Killeya-Jones (Partial): Five-star by 24/7 Sports, four-star by Scout, Rivals, and ESPN (4.25 average).
Sacha’s story at UK is partially written. He barely saw the floor his first season, logging only 96 minutes in 15 games. He has had much more of an impact his second year, but recent buzz suggests Killeya-Jones is not happy with the amount of minutes he is receiving. We can all hope for that Killeya-Jones and Calipari can mend their relationship, and that he’ll return next year to make an impact as a junior. Unfortunately for Big Blue Nation that may not be the case.
Tai Wynyard: Four-star by all services (4.0 average).
Tai is having a time getting playing time with the ‘Cats as well. After redshirting his first season at UK (he enrolled halfway through the season) Wynyard made only 15 appearances last season, while only logging 54 minutes of playing time. This season has been much worse. Wynyard played in only 8 games before a back injury costed him his season. Then, after a report saying an armed student accompanied Wynyard as his bodyguard to a party, Wynyard was suspended for violating team rules. It remains to be seen whether or not he will return next year, but we could be looking at going 0-2 on recruiting big-time four stars in this class
Jemarl Baker: Four-star by all four services (4.0 average).
Baker has yet to play this season, and he likely will not suit up for the ‘Cats in 2017-18. We will wait-and-see whether or not Baker can be the three-point specialist that typically separate good Calipari teams from great ones next season.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Five-star by 247. Four-star by Scout, Rivals and ESPN (4.25 average).
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will likely be a one-and-done four-star recruit after a standout freshman season. SGA leads the team in minutes (though he’s only started 16 games), three-point percentage, free throw percentage, assists, and steals. He has been as important as any player on the team for Kentucky this season, and for that reason I doubt he stays. If Gilgeous-Alexander decides to leave for the NBA Draft very few doubt he will be a first-round pick. That’s why recruits come to Kentucky, to be first-round picks. As much as we may want him to be a four-year guy, he has outperformed that status.
Tyler Herro: Five-star by ESPN, four-star by Scout/247 and Rivals.
Herro looks to be on the route of Booker and SGA. He hasn’t stepped foot at UK, yet, but he is proving to be an absolute scoring machine in high school. Heck, after being left out of the McDonald’s All-American game, all he did was average 40.4 points a game. Even Big Baller Brand wants him to join their league. Herro will be an absolute star next year, and I doubt he escapes the first round of next year’s draft if he keeps performing at this level.
Here is my personal count of the four-stars under Calipari: 5-6 busts with two (Killeya-Jones and Wynyard) trending that direction, then a few guys who were limited contributors at best. Willie was a big success for his three-year career, and it looks like SGA will be one as well, though as a one-and-done.
So, out of all of the true four-star prospects Cal has recruited, only Willie Cauley-Stein made a big impact for more than two seasons.
The success rate for four-star players under Cal is below average, and even the ones that make it don’t stay long.
The good news is some five-star guys have stayed multiple seasons to help offset the failed four-star recruits. Alex Poythress stayed four years, and there is a long history of five stars playing for another year (Lamb, Terrence Jones, and the Harrison Twins to name a few).
Local three-star kids may be the answer. Madison Central’s Dominique Hawkins and Bullitt East’s Derek Willis were both four-year players that helped steady the ship for Kentucky when waters were rough (Willis was actually a four-star prospect by 247, but on average, he was a three-star recruit in his class).
But the idea that four-star players that stay for three or four years will be the solution to Kentucky’s youth problem has proven to be false more often than not. That doesn’t mean UK should stop recruiting them, but asking Calipari to recruit more of them simply isn’t a fair demand from fans.
Note: Bledsoe, Lamb, Booker and Lee were considered five-stars for this exercise.